Automatic membership of UCD Students’ Union (UCDSU) continuously arises as a contentious topic. Following the abortion preferendum in 2013, Samuel O’Connor set up Irish Students for Freedom of Association (ISFA) to help other students opt out of union membership. The group’s website is long gone, but it’s core legal argument still remains. Citizens have a constitutional right to join trade unions, while the right to disaffiliate from one was set out in the famous constitutional case of Meskill v CIE, which built on earlier decisions.
Article 3 of the UCDSU Constitution states that its membership includes ‘all persons registered as students in University College Dublin… who are pursuing recognised degree or diploma courses of the University.’ Based on the case law, a person could argue they should be free to opt out of union membership.
While all that is a well-known and argued point, what if a group of students breakaway and attempt to form their own union? Could they be recognised as a representative body for students by the administration? Theoretically, it looks like a yes. The Seanad recently hosted an interesting debate during the Committee Stage of the Technological Universities Bill 2015. While you can read all about it in the Business and Law section of this paper, one part of it stuck out.
Specifically, Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor’s reference to section 16(2)(d)(iv) and (v) of the Universities Act 1997, which states that the members of a university’s governing authority shall include ‘not less than two or more than three students of the university who are elected officers of the Students Union or other student representative body in the university recognised by the governing authority, and one post-graduate student elected by the post-graduate students.’
These sections allow for members of a student representative body, as recognised by the governing authority, other than ‘the Students Union’ to sit on the governing authority. There was a good back-and-forth in the Seanad over it, where it was argued that without a definition of a ‘student union’, an administration could choose a random student representative body over an ‘official’ union and let them sit on the governing authority. It is an ongoing debate worth following.
Cian Carton – Editor